Sunday, April 16, 2017

India should get a little more creative with its Gilgit-Baltistan policy

It could even consider participating in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, subject to Islamabad fulfilling a few conditions. 

It would be difficult to fault the official stand taken by the Government of India on Pakistan’s decision to create a new province of Gilgit-Baltistan. A Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said last week that the move was “illegal” and “completely unacceptable”.
The legal position is that India holds the sovereignty over the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, though according to the United Nations, it needs to be ratified by a plebiscite. For a variety of reasons, that plebiscite has not taken place for 70 years, and despite many twists and turns, the Jammu and Kashmir issue has not been resolved. However, that does not negate the fact that as of this moment, sovereignty of all of the state rests with India.
Pakistan claims legal rights over Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly the Northern Areas, through an agreement signed by the so-called Azad Kashmir government that ceded control of the region to Pakistan in 1949. No one seems to have a copy of this agreement today. However, Azad Kashmir government never had any control over the region in the first place, and so handing over that region to Pakistan was a sleight of hand to disguise Pakistan’s outright annexation of territory that even now legally belongs to the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
In 1972, the Azad Kashmir legislature demanded the return of the region. Its High Court, in a judgement, supported this contention, but it was overturned by its Supreme Court, which said that the Northern Areas were not part of Azad Kashmir. Since that court did not declare it to be part of Pakistan either, it left the region in a limbo.
The region was ruled since 1949 by the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which gave no rights to local residents, and all administrative and judicial powers were held by the Islamabad-based Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. In 1994, Pakistan passed a peculiar constitutional device called the Legal Framework Order. This administrative instrument was used to deny representative government to local residents and to strengthen Islamabad’s hold over the region. In 1999, the Pakistan Supreme Court directed the Pakistan government to provide fundamental rights to the region, and to draw up a system that would enable the people to have an elected government. So in 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari renamed the region Gilgit-Baltistan through a Self Governance Order, which kept the reins of the government firmly in the hands of Islamabad rather than with the region’s chief minister or elected Assembly.

The way out

Earlier this month, a Pakistani minister told a television channel that a high-powered committee had recommended that Gilgit-Baltistan be declared Pakistan’s fifth province. This move has been criticised not only by the Government of India, but by the Hurriyat Conference, which advocates the state’s secession from India.
The failure of India and Pakistan to conduct the plebiscite led to the exploration of various other ways to resolve the issue. Between 1948 and 1956, the United Nations sought to mediate, but was unsuccessful. In 1953-’54, the two countries held direct talks that were quite positive, but came apart following the American decision to supply arms to Pakistan. In 1963, the US and UK strong-armed India to talk to Pakistan, but the latter, in a style that became typical, over-reached, and the negotiation collapsed. In 1965 Pakistan tried war, but failed. In 1971, the two countries put the past behind them and said they would resolve the dispute through dialogue. In 1989, Pakistan began a covert war that has more or less been defeated.
So, the only way out remains dialogue and negotiation, which is not happening.
As per the instrument of accession, the Government of India Act (1935), Indian Independence Act (1947), Constitution of India and international law, the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir legally belongs to India. This 2004 map by Central Intelligence Agency (modified to show the official Indian map inset) shows the ground position of the areas illegally occupied by Pakistan and China – and that ceded illegally by Pakistan to China. What the map shows as Azad Kashmir is what is called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in India.
As per the instrument of accession, the Government of India Act (1935), Indian Independence Act (1947), Constitution of India and international law, the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir legally belongs to India. This 2004 map by Central Intelligence Agency (modified to show the official Indian map inset) shows the ground position of the areas illegally occupied by Pakistan and China – and that ceded illegally by Pakistan to China. What the map shows as Azad Kashmir is what is called Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in India.
When the first war over Jammu and Kashmir broke out, India had to make hard choices in its military campaign. It focused on the Kashmir Valley, the region around Poonch and Ladakh. Desultory attempts were made to fight in the vast Northern Areas but they failed for want of adequate forces.
There was another subliminal message – if the nation could be partitioned, so could Jammu and Kashmir, with India holding the Valley of Kashmir and Jammu, and Pakistan getting Azad Kashmir, which provided depth to the defence of its heartland, as well as people who were ethnically close to them. As for the Northern Areas, no one really bothered about it too much, not the Indians, nor the Pakistanis who are only now seeking to give it some legal status.
India’s willingness to the partition option was apparent in its official responses to Sir Owen Dixon’s plans to partition the state and conduct a plebiscite only in the Valley. They reappeared in the 1963 negotiations, when New Delhi proposed not just allowing Pakistan to have Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas, but also a small chunk of the Valley. Pakistan did not bite.

Lost agreement

In 1972, in the Simla talks, Pakistan’s president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave a verbal commitment to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that he would convert the Cease Fire Line into an international border. Pending this, he agreed that the line should be called the “Line of Control”, which is a matter-of-fact term, rather than a reference to a line created through war. But Bhutto was deposed, and the Pakistanis denied that the conversation happened. No doubt the government has a record of this in its archives, but we have learnt of this through the memoirs of PN Dhar, Indira Gandhi’s secretary, and a contemporary news report by the New York Times correspondent James Sterba, who had been briefed by the Pakistani delegation.
Interestingly, the actual land connectivity between Pakistan and China dates to the late 1960s and 1970s when the Karakoram Highway linking the two countries through the Khunjerab Pass came up. India did make a formal protest, but it was done as a matter of form. If it had been an important issue it would have figured in the Simla talks. There is nothing in the available records to show that it did.
That India was willing to forgo its formal claim over Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas was more recently reiterated in the back-channel India-Pakistan negotiations in the period 2004-’07. India’s opening gambit was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s repeated statements that he would accept any settlement that would not call for the redrawing of boundaries. Eventually the two sides came close to a settlement based on existing borders. Unfortunately, political instability in Pakistan prevented further movement on an agreement. Subsequently, as is their wont, the Pakistanis disclaimed any connection to the negotiation.

Shifting goalposts?

And this is where we come back to the Indian stand on Gilgit-Baltistan today. India cannot formally take any other stand but to insist on its claim of sovereignty. But there has been an Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir, which essentially wishes to settle the dispute with Pakistan on an “as is, where is” position. By shifting the goalposts now, the Modi government is embarking on an entirely new track.
Many questions arise: Does India assert its sovereignty over Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir with a view of reclaiming them, or is the claim a basis of negotiation? Second, is reclaiming a realistic option, considering that the bulk of the people there would be against the move, never mind the few dissidents who are trotted out in seminars? Third, is this a desireable option? Would India like to add seven million mostly Muslim citizens to Jammu and Kashmir whose population today is 13 million of whom nine million are Muslim and four million are Hindu?
Actually it is more than likely that New Delhi’s main purpose is to use the sovereignty issue to oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor on the pretext that it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. Essentially what India is saying to China is: Either accept India’s sovereignty on Jammu and Kashmir or abandon the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Neither is likely to happen.
On March 17 the Chinese official spokesperson noted: “On the Kashmir issue, China’s position is consistent and clear-cut. As a leftover issue from history between India and Pakistan, it needs to be properly settled through dialogue and consultation between the two sides. The development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor does not affect China’s position on the Kashmir issue.”
In opposing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, New Delhi needs to clarify its goals. Is it doing so with a view to disrupt the Sino-Pakistan axis? That is a legitimate goal, but whether it is desireable or even achieveable is another matter. A more constructive policy could well be a participation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor subject to Islamabad ending its blockade of India’s land and rail routes to and through Pakistan, and opening up its economy to South Asian regional integration, something which Islamabad has committed itself to in various meetings of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. A more integrated South Asia will be beneficial to all parties and if it is done via a Chinese agency, it will be all the more satisfying. March 20, 2017

India’s Man For All Seasons Book Review of A Life In The Shadow: The Secret History Of A.C.N. Nambiar By Vappala Balachandran

History, as Eliot says, has many “cunning passages and contrived corridors”, but there are some alternate pathways which requ­ire some effort to discover. One such—the life of A.C.N. Namb­iar—has been recovered by Vappala Bal­achandran. Nambiar lived in Eur­ope in the turbulent decades before World War II, was a journalist for various newspapers, was an associate of Pan­­dit Nehru and, later, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s representative in Nazi Germany. Then, he served as India’s amb­­assador to Sweden and West Germ­any. Balachandran retired as a senior officer in R&AW and was one of the two members of a committee tas­ked to look into the Mumbai police in relation to the 26/11 attack.

India’s Man For All Seasons

Balachandran’s book has given us an unu­­sual Indian perspective of the compli­cated 1920s and ’30s in Europe. Through Nambiar’s life and activities, Balachan­dran etches vividly the rise of Nazism, the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the chaos and confusion accompanying the fall of France and the tumultous per­iod following Netaji’s arrival in Germany and the establishment of the Azad Hind Office there. He also gives us a picture of the gritty circumstances in which many of our freedom fighters lived during the war, especially in its closing period, when they were hunted by British intelligence.
Into this story he weaves the details of how Nambiar became close to Nehru, and subsequently his family, at a time when Kamala was ailing and, accompanied by Indira, had come to Europe for treatment. Equally fascinating was his relationship with Bose, who he first met in the mid- 1930s and who he tracked to his hideaway in a French village at the Spanish border in 1941 after his dramatic escape from India. Soon, Bose was to seek his help in setting up the Azad Hind Office.

Balachandran has, of course, benefited from his own, somewhat shadowy asso­ciat­ion with Nambiar beginning in 1980, when he was asked by his superiors, at the behest of Indira Gandhi, to con­­tact him at his home in Zurich. He speaks somewhat elliptically of this relationship, which ended when Nambiar passed away in 1986 in New Delhi. By then, Balachan­dran did manage a long interview with Nambiar, but he has also scoured the files of British intelligence and the Bombay Special Branch for information on Nambiar and his divorced wife, Suhasini Chattopadhyay, and marshalled information available from a variety of sources.
Significantly, the book throws light on the Nehru-Bose relationship. Nam­­­­biar may have been Bose’s deputy, but after independence, Panditji appoin­ted him ambassador to various European countries and it was Indira who sought him out. Nambiar was cut off from his own family and it’s clear from Indira’s letters to him that she loved and respected him.
The book questions the notion, popularised by a certain class of people whose political progenitors did not participate in the national movement, that Bose and Nehru were irreconcileable adversaries. Through the eyes of Nambiar, Balacha­ndran describes the courtesy that marked the Bose-Nehru relationship and Pan­di­tji’s efforts to help Bose’s widow Emilie Schenkl after the war.

The one area that Balachandran does not explore in detail is the allegation, made in some British intelligence documents, based on the information of a Soviet defector, that Nambiar was a spy working for the Soviet military intelligence. Perhaps there is not much there to explore. There is no doubt that Nambiar was a Leftist of sorts; Suhasini was associated with the Communist Party of India. His own columns in newspapers reflected his distate for Nazism. But, his importa­nce in the records comes from his role as an aide to Bose who, it is clear, had a high opinion of his abilities.
Achievements by themselves do not gua­­rantee a place in history, nor do notoriety or good deeds. What gives life to the art of history is the manner in which we constantly interrogate our past to understand the present, often through the prism of our contemporary concerns.
By that measure, Nambiar’s place would have been secure, as he was amongst the handful of Indians living abroad who contributed to our freedom struggle, and was an associate of both Nehru and Bose.
 But Nambiar was naturally self-effacing and insisted on living, as the title suggests, a life in the shadows. So it has taken ano­ther person used to such a life to shine some light on him. Balachandran has made an enormous contribution by bri­nging to life a person who would have been quite content to die in obscurity.
Outlook March 27, 2017

Letting NSG and Masood Azhar get in the way of Indo-China ties. Is it worth it?

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar recently visited Beijing for what was billed as a new round of the India-China Strategic dialogue. Expectations that the talks would lead to a reset of the troubled India-China relations have been belied.

Only a hardened optimist expected forward movement on the issues bedeviling their relations, especially India’s demand that China support its Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG) membership and effort to designate Masood Azhar a terrorist under UN rules. And now, the Chinese have signalled that if India goes ahead with the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang, things could get much worse.
S Jaishankar

The reason why Sino-Indian relations are in a bad state has a lot to do with the way India conducts its foreign policy, rather than their much talked up geopolitical rivalry.
The Chinese perspective is apparent from the comment of a Chinese diplomat that India was “behaving like a kid in a candy store” in loudly clamouring for membership of the NSG. He had a point. India already has a waiver on civil nuclear trade since 2008. And in 2011, the NSG added a rule which will deny us the one thing we want—enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Is this hollow prize worth the price we are paying in derailing our relations with China?
Let’s look at the problem another way. Assume the government has good reasons for India to be a member of the NSG, the question then is: What price are we willing to pay for it? The US has not backed us for free. Not only did we agree not to conduct any more nuclear tests, we also gave verbal assurances that we would make significant purchases of US nuclear equipment. The French and the Russians, too, were promised nuclear sales. Unfortunately for the Chinese, they are being asked to support New Delhi for free.
India seems to be demanding that Beijing support India’s entry into the NSG and lift its hold on the designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist under the UN’s 1267 committee, on a matter of principle. The only thing on offer is Indian goodwill, a currency that has little value with the hard-headed Chinese, who like most other nations, believe that international relations are about give and take.

Now with a President with a “What’s in it for me and America?” ethos in the White House, India has cause to worry. In recent times Indian foreign policy leaned on American indulgence leavened with generous conventional military purchases. At some point, the Trump Administration could ask for something new in exchange for America giving so many jobs to Indians, or the diplomatic support on Masood Azhar and the NSG application. Whatever it is, the terms of engagement could become clearly transactional.
India is not quite used to this world. We’ve been a free rider on the international system by declaring that we were a poor, but a non-aligned Third World country. Our preachiness was irritating, but we did extract considerable economic assistance from both the US and the USSR. We have been the largest recipients of foreign aid from the US — $ 65 billion. Yet, we did not support them in the Cold War, the Vietnam war, and did Bangladesh despite them. The Americans came to come to our aid in the dark days of November 1962, but we haven’t even bothered to name a road after John F Kennedy, though we have named them after Nasser, Olof Palme, Nkrumah and Dubcek.

The Soviets didn’t get anything more. Though much poorer, they helped us with things that the West was reluctant to provide — steel and machine tools technology, our first submarines, a licence to manufacture the Mig-21, their frontline fighter at that time, political support on Kashmir and military backing in 1971. But they didn’t even get verbal support for their adventure in Afghanistan.
Being a poor and high-minded about-to-be-great nation has stood us well till now, countries have been willing to invest politically and financially in India in the hope of recovering their cost handsomely when we strike it big. So we have demanded and got concessions on emissions criteria, IPR and trade regimes. When the US sanctioned Iran in 2010, we got a waiver. But in today’s troubled times when even the US feels victimised by the international system, the appetite for accommodating India is wearing thin. Actually it has been for a while.
In fact, the signs have been evident for some time now. After the Soviet collapse, a contrite New Delhi went to the Americans demanding technology as a price of better relations. They did not offer much by way of exchange except the usual IOUs encashable in the future. The US has refused to unbelt and has, instead, focused on our lucrative market for their military equipment. As for technology, they have their own IOUs, offering it always in some unspecified future.
The one big power that has never quite fit into this paradigm is China. They offered to swap their claim on Arunachal Pradesh for the Indian territory in Aksai Chin, New Delhi did not bite in 1960, it didn’t do so again in 1981. So they have gone back on the offer and now call Arunachal “southern Tibet.” The non-aligned preachiness did not help because Beijing was even better than New Delhi in feeling entitled, first as the vanguard of the revolution, and now as a country recovering from “a century of humiliation”.
Hindustan Times March 16, 2017

Narendra Modi's IRON GRIP on India's narrative tightens

The BJP'S victory in Uttar Pradesh is an event that will change the political discourse in the country.In north India, in particular, the Mandalera seems to have gone, though it would probably be inaccurate to say that 'Kamandal' has won.
More than mere communal polarisation, what the BJP did was to successfully triangulate the caste equations on a message of development and economic change.

It managed to consolidate its support among the upper castes and isolate the Yadavs, Jatav Dalits and the Muslims.
The communal agenda came up elliptically (shamshan and kabristan) and subliminally via the 'surgical strike'.
It did not really have to convince anyone of its anti-Muslim credentials, its message came through when it simply did not put up any Muslim candidate.
The whole structure was put into place by a well-oiled strategy of Amit Shah. But at the bottom of it all, it was one man - Narendra Modi who made the difference. 
Without his credibility and authoritative leadership, it is doubtful that the BJP would have done so well against a well known regional party and leader.
The BJP did not project a chief ministerial candidate and that makes the Modi victory even more total.
Whoever is now appointed will know that he owes everything to the Prime Minister. 
And in humiliating the SP-Congress alliance, Modi has established a dominant national leadership position, which is unlikely to be challenged for quite a while.
The victories of 2014 and 2017 will alter the texture of UP politics.
It is not that that the SP or BSP lost their vote share, it is that their method of consolidating minority voters around one major caste lost out to the Shah-Modi formula of fusing the majority of the castes and leaving out the minorities.
The exclusion of Muslims from its calculations has portentous consequences.
One major reason for the lack of radicalism among Indian Muslims had been their effective integration into the country's political system.
Modi's BJP stormed to a landslide victory in the state, where one in six Indians residesWithout Modi's credibility and authoritative leadership, it is doubtful that the BJP would have done so well against a well known regional party and leader

Victory in UP was important for Modi's project of winning the 2019 general elections. His comprehensive sweep of the Lok Sabha seats of the state in 2014 set the stage for the equally comprehensive victory in the Vidhan Sabha poll of 2017.
Had the party not done as well, it would have indicated an erosion of support in the past two years.
But the results now show that the BJP retains the base it tapped in 2014, and it is likely to retain it in 2019 because the Opposition has been scattered.
The lesson for the Congress Party is quite the opposite. They projected a strong regional leader Captain Amrinder Singh in Punjab and fared well, as indeed they did in the days of yore when powerful satraps ruled the land.
But successes in Punjab, and relative good performance in Goa and Manipur are insignificant in the face of the UP outcome.
The choices before the Congress are stark - persist with the Gandhi family and witness slow collapse, or strike out on a new path which may prove to be a blind alley.
The election results have been equally cruel for the Aam Admi Party which was hoping that a strong performance in Punjab would propel it into the position of emerging as the national Opposition.
Then, those who see this as a verdict in favour of demonetisation miss the point. 
Make no mistake, demonetisation was a disastrous move, but Modi had the charisma and authority to convince the people that it was, in reality, an attack on the rich on behalf of the poor.

His ability to capture the narrative was evident, too, in 2002, when the charges against him were much graver.
Actually, the sheer scale of the victory means that the people simply shrugged away the pains of demonetisation and focused instead on BJP's larger message that they would rid the state of crime, caste-ist politics and bring jobs and development instead.
Politicians often do promise such things, but with Modi enunciating them, the promises appeared far more credible and enticing.
As of now Modi's promises remain IOUs encashable in the future. There has been no significant gain in ambitious programmes like 'Make in India.'
Job creation has crashed and 'Swachh Bharat' appears to have had little impact. In the area of foreign policy, too, there have been few achievements.
On the other hand, India's important relationships with Pakistan and China appear to be in a stasis.
Modi needs to urgently improve the quality of his government and begin meeting the aroused expectations of the people of the country. 
Mail Today March 13, 2017

Is Tawang Becoming the Focus of Sino-Indian Relations?

A former top Chinese negotiator’s statements on a trade-off between Tawang and Aksai Chin could mean a variety of things.

 Indian army soldiers march near an army base on India's Tezpur-Tawang highway in Arunachal Pradesh May 29, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Frank Jack Daniel/Files


It is not easy to interpret remarks by a former senior Chinese official on a possible trade-off between Tawang in Arunchal Pradesh, which is claimed by China, and Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir, claimed by India.

Dai Bingguo, who was Beijing’s special representative or top negotiator on the border dispute with his Indian counterparts between 2003 and 2013, declared in an interview with the China-Indian Dialogue magazine recently that “The disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.”
He went on to add that India’s refusal to meet China’s “reasonable requests” for a border compromise was the reason why the boundary problem had proved to be so intractable. “If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns in the eastern sector of their border,” Dai said, “the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere.”
Since the mid-1980s, Chinese negotiators have been demanding that India give them the Tawang tract as part of a border settlement and India has been rejecting the demand. Indian special representatives, who were the serving national security advisors (Brajesh Mishra, J.N. Dixit, M.K. Narayanan and Shiv Shankar Menon) had categorically told their Chinese counterparts that to even raise the issue of India ceding Tawang was to indicate that Beijing did not want to really settle the dispute. In other words, the Chinese knew that  India will not concede Tawang and yet they kept on raising the idea of a swap involving India conceding Tawang, a major  town of the state and a premier centre of Tibetan Buddhism. No Indian government could pass such a deal.
Dai Bingguo. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Dai Bingguo. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Knowing this fully well, Dai insisted that the ball was in the Indian court when he declared that “China and India are now standing in front of the gate towards a final settlement… The gate is a framework solution based on meaningful and mutually accepted adjustments. Now, the Indian side holds the key to the gate.” However, we must enter a caveat here: It must be emphasised that Dai is now retired and it is not clear how much, if any, authority his remarks carry.

Tawang’s history
The issue of Tawang is a complex one. It is true, as Dai says, that it was culturally Tibetan in that it was the town with one of the great Tibetan monasteries, the place where the fifth Dalai Lama was born. Dai’s claim that even the “British colonialists” respected China’s jurisdiction over Tawang is ingenuous. The British position, and following it the Indian one, has been that the Tibetans exercised only ecclesiastical authority over the area, not temporal. That has been the Chinese position with regard to the authority of the Dalai Lama in any case.
In 1914, at a time when Tibet was independent, its representative agreed, at a meeting in Shimla, to place it south of the McMahon Line, which was agreed as the border between Tibet and India. A Chinese plenipotentiary who was present in the meetings initialled the agreement, though he did not finally sign it. The Chinese protests thereafter were exclusively about the manner in which McMahon had defined the Tibet-China border, not the India-Tibet boundary.
Communist China also did not raise the issue till 1959. Indeed, in 1962, China occupied Tawang and all of Arunachal Pradesh, but subsequently withdrew behind the border formed by the McMahon Line. This was in contrast to its behaviour in Ladakh, where it did not leave the territory it occupied.
Since the mid-1980s, Indian negotiators have confronted the Chinese claim that the Sino-Indian dispute in the eastern sector was more serious and that India must make concessions, possibly the Tawang tract, in order to resolve the dispute.
Dai’s interview is interesting. Last year, he published his memoirs Strategic Dialogues and there was no mention of Tawang in it. All he noted was that the “Sino-Indian boundary has never been formally demarcated, but is a traditional customary line formed by the people of the two nations”. Refusing to acknowledge the McMahon Line that was created by the Simla Accord of 1914, he said that the only accepted portion was the Sikkim boundary formed by the 1890 Sino-British convention. The McMahon Line, he insisted was “concocted” by the British and the representatives of the local Tibetan government.
Dai pointed out that the April 2005 agreement on Political Parameters and Agreed Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Border Question was the first political document between the two nations for resolving the border issue.
Article III enjoined on both sides to “make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments” with a view of working out “a package settlement to the boundary question.” Article IV noted that the two sides should give “due consideration to each other’s strategic and reasonable interests.” Article V noted that the two sides need to take into account “historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties and reasonable concerns and sensitivities.” Article VII said that both sides “shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”
A simple reading of its clauses would suggest that the guidelines would eventually lead to a more or less “as is/where is” position. The only viable package was allegedly suggested by Zhou Enlai in 1960 and Deng Xiaoping in 1980 – that in exchange for India surrendering its claim of Aksai Chin, China would concede its claim on Arunachal Pradesh.
Article IV would suggest that India would do it on the basis of accepting Aksai Chin as a strategic interest for China, while the latter would agree to do the same in the case of Arunachal on the basis of Article VII.
However, as Ranjit Kalha pointed out in India-China Boundary Issues: Quest for Settlement (2014), in 2007, confronted with the enhancement of the Indo-US strategic relationship, the Chinese baulked and its foreign minister Yang Jiechi blandly told his Indian counterpart that “the mere presence of populated areas [in Arunachal] would not effect Chinese claims on the boundary”. This was followed by other measures such as the denial of a visa to an IAS officer of Arunachal Pradesh, issuing stapled visas for visitors from Jammu and Kashmir and stepping up its patrolling of the Line of Actual Control, especially in the areas where the Indian and Chinese perceptions of the line overlapped. Simultaneously, it also enhanced its nuclear ties with Pakistan to counter the Indo-US nuclear deal.
Kalha believes that “the Chinese had decided to utilize the unsettled border as a part of coercive diplomacy to put ‘pressure’ on India”.
Given the long and complicated history of Sino-Indian border negotiations, multiple possibilities flow from Dai’s interview and his specific reference to Tawang. It could well be simply the personal views of a retired senior official. On the other hand by bringing the issue of China’s claim on Tawang into the Indian public domain it could be a calculated move aimed at putting India on the defensive. Finally, it could actually presage a move back to give life to the 2005 political parameters agreement. China is currently under a great deal of pressure from internal as well as external developments. Historically these are the moments in which it becomes more amenable to settle its disputes.
There are some hints in that direction in another report of Dai’s interview which notes that China did not see India as a rival and neither did it seek to contain it. Not only was China “delighted” with the evolution of India’s relations with other countries, including the US, Dai went out of his way to laud India’s “independent foreign policy” based on its pursuit of “strategic autonomy.”
Interestingly, the Dai interview coincides with the Sino-Indian spat over the planned visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang later this year, his first since 2009. A Chinese spokesman has said that China was “gravely concerned” over the development and that it would “bring serious damage to peace and stability of the border region and China-India relations.” In his remarks, the spokesman accused the “Dalai group” of putting on “dishonourable acts in the past on the boundary question.” It is not exactly clear what he meant by that.

Tawang may well have emerged as the focus of Sino-Indian relations, which revolve around the fulcrum of Tibet. Tawang is the most important monastery of Tibetan Buddhism outside Tibet. It was the birthplace of the fifth Dalai Lama and was established at his behest in 1680-81. What the Chinese worry about it that it may be the place where the current Dalai Lama, who is 81, decides to reincarnate. Even though they insist that only they can certify a Dalai Lama, it could well lead to an invidious position from their point of view.
India has long recognised that Tibet is part of China, but their insecurities there have been fuelled by their own shoddy and, in the past, brutal, handling of their minorities. The more recent Chinese mishandling of their relations with India has resulted in New Delhi refusing since 2010 to reiterate in joint statements that Tibet is part of China. The current Indian government, which invited the Tibetan government-in-exile prime minister for the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has hardened the Indian position. In December 2016, President Pranab Mukherji became the first president in decades to welcome the Dalai Lama in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, albeit on the occasion of a function organised by the Kailash Satyarthi Foundation.
At the end of the day, given India’s categorical acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, Beijing needs to accept that New Delhi has important equities in Tibet. These are not just born out of the history of Tibetan Buddhism or geography, but the fact that Tibet has been an important neighbour of India and our historical, cultural and economic interaction has been going on since antiquity.
The Wire March 9, 2017

India and the World: Foreign Policy in the Age of Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has been characterised by great energy, a desire to break the mold of the past and a penchant for risk-taking. Given the vigour he has imparted,  foreign relations should have yielded more significant results. They haven’t. This is not only the fault of poor conception and implementation of some initiatives, but to the fact that in foreign policy there are external variables outside your control.
Even before the Modi government assumed office in May of 2014, certain trends in foreign policy had hardened.  1) The Special Representative process of resolving India’s border issue with China had reached a dead-end. 2) The same had happened with the composite dialogue with Pakistan. Actually, minus a Pakistani effort to punish the perpetrators of the  2008 Mumbai terror strike of November 2008, the very basis of a bilateral dialogue to resolve issues had been undermined.

What has Modi sought in his  foreign policy ?

The Modi government has, through its publicised Raisina Dialogues, put forward themes it wishes to pursue in its foreign policy. In its first iteration in 2016, “Connectivity” was the overarching meme, associated with its desire to push neighbourhood ties. In January 2017, the dialogue was under the rubric of “Multipolarity and Multilateralism,” signaling a larger vision of India as a regional power.
These do not, however, tell the whole story. India can have only one major goal in its grand strategy –to promote economic growth and secure its periphery. In this, integrating the South Asian economy through enhanced connectivity is logical, though pursued fitfully, primarily because of India’s poor ties with Pakistan.
To secure its periphery, New Delhi must deal with its biggest foreign policy challenge—moderating, if not breaking, the China-Pakistan alliance. Short of this, it remains limited to managing its relationships with the two in a sub-optimal manner.  As of today, however, the Modi government appears to be faltering even in this task.

Early momentum

Modi came in with a terrific drive. In just the seven months that he was in office in 2014, he had made nine foreign visits. In his two-and-a-half years, he has visited 36 countries, a handful  of them twice, and the United States four times.  A remarkable aspect of his visits was that, in many instances, he was the first PM to visit a country, even key neighbours, in years—the first in 17 to Nepal, 28 to Sri Lanka,  34 to UAE,  and the first ever to Mongolia.
Modi came to power with a “neighbourhood first” agenda. He signaled his commitment by inviting all the leaders of SAARC nations for his inauguration as Prime Minister. His very first bilateral visit in June 2014 was to India’s “best friend” Bhutan and the second in August was to Nepal.  He returned to Kathmandu in November to attend the 18th SAARC summit, where he conducted  an important outreach to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The neighbourhood pattern was repeated in 2015, but this time focusing on the Indian Ocean when there were visits to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka as well as to Bangladesh and Afghanistan. A second important cluster was all the five Central Asian “stans” in July 2015.
A third set of priorities became visible through Modi’s 2016 visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar. He had already visited the UAE in  August 2016, and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan became the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in 2017.
Underlying all these were visits to Japan and various European countries with a view to enticing investors and aid. The visits to the US were a special category, aimed at shoring up ties with the only country that could help India offset Chinese power, and whose friendship opened the doors to many other countries and institutions.

The best laid plans…

Somehow things have not worked out as well in the neighbourhood as they could have – and we aren’t even speaking about Pakistan. It was evident in the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu that Islamabad was not willing to go along with the connectivity projects being mooted, and Sharif had been domestically hobbled by the Army. By 2016, the India-Pakistan situation had reached a point where a New Delhi-led boycott led to the collapse of the 19th SAARC summit to be held in Islamabad.
Ties with Nepal nose-dived in 2015 following the promulgation of a new constitution that militated against the interests of the Madhesi or plains people. New Delhi woke up at the last minute and sent Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to retrieve the situation, but it was too late. Eventually a road  blockade softened the Nepalese, and thereafter a New Delhi-backed constitutional coup led to a break in the CPN(UML)- CPN (Maoist) alliance in Nepal, and the replacement of K P Sharma Oli by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) as Prime Minister. But the damage has been deep, and Oli is now fanning the flames of Nepali nationalism with some Chinese encouragement.
The new Indian assertiveness was also visible in Sri Lanka where New Delhi helped cobble an alliance that saw the defeat of Mahinda Rajpakse in the presidential elections. The man who defeated the LTTE became anathema to New Delhi because of the burgeoning links between Sri Lanka and China. More than this, though, New Delhi was alarmed by the docking of Chinese submarines in Colombo harbour in 2014 and 2015.
There has been no visit to Maldives because New Delhi’s relations with Male remain deadlocked following the  removal of Mohammed Nasheed as President, and the steady consolidation of control by President Abdulla Yameen.
But the visits to the island republics of Mauritius and Seychelles have been useful in developing India’s maritime domain awareness scheme, as well as its naval posture in the Indian Ocean.

The elephants in the room

The big failures in India’s ties relate to Pakistan and China. After a thaw of sorts in 2014, India-Pakistan ties never really got off the ground. There were incidents on the Line of Control, and the new government sought to clearly signal its tough intent by conducting an unprecedented counter-bombardment on the LoC.
But New Delhi did not give up on Islamabad. Following the Ufa meeting between Sharif and Modi, their NSAs met in Bangkok in early December 2015. Later on Christmas Day, which happened to be Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, Modi made a surprise descent on Lahore to personally wish him.
However, the attack, a week later on January 1, 2016, on the Indian airbase at Pathankot has changed the Indian narrative on Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has since then, repeatedly called on Pakistan to be sanctioned as a state sponsor of terrorism, and to be isolated by the international community. The Uri attack of September 18, 2016 and the Indian response through the so-called surgical strikes ten days later on September 28/29 are an indication that India and Pakistan are back to the future. Modi’s obsession with “terrorism” from Pakistan is puzzling considering that since 2011 we have not suffered a mass civilian casualty attack. It appears to be designed to appeal to the domestic electorate.
With China, nothing so dramatic is happening. Indeed, to go just by one metric, Chinese “transgressions” on the Line of Actual Control have actually decreased. The peculiar drama that played out in Chumur sector during the state visit of Xi Jinping in September 2014 was the last such major event. But the border talks are stalled and there has been no significant political or economic outcome from either the Xi visit of 2014 or Modi’s return visit in 2015.
But a CBM regime ensures that its disputed border does not trigger conflict, while India participates in Beijing-led initiatives like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and BRICS, and goes through the motions of cooperation.

Our natural ally

The one area where India has had unalloyed success is in its relations with the United States. This is not because we have an identity of interests, but a congruence of needs that the other can fulfill. India needs the world’s foremost military power to maintain a balance against China, while the US needs India because it is the only credible partner it has in building a coalition in East Asia to confront China. These ties were not a Modi initiative, but arose during the presidency of George W Bush. In fact, it can be argued that the given the momentum, the outcome has been sub-par.
Relations with Japan are a subset of ties with the US, and again, serve mutual needs—India wants Japanese investment and technology, while Tokyo seeks India’s participation in the East Asian coalition.
What about the main agenda: seeking an economic transformation of India? According to the government, Modi’s foreign visits have resulted in a sharp rise of FDI into India. In 2015, for example, India attracted $ 44 billion a 29 per cent jump over the figure for the previous year. The figure could be higher for 2016, but it needs to be recalled that the 2012 figure was $46.55 billion, and so to attribute the growth to Modi’s foreign policy alone would be an error.
As part of this, Modi has also been active in multilateral forums like BRICS, East Asia Summit,  and the G-20.  However, the political part of the agenda often became more important than the economic. Thus, the  Ufa  BRICS summit became more important for the Modi-Sharif meeting than the substantive agenda. The BRICS summit in Goa in October 2026, became an occasion to corner Pakistan on account of its support of terrorism.

Looking ahead

Despite the self-inflicted wound of demonetisation, India’s economy will remain a growth magnet and attract foreign investment. But the India story may be affected by questions about the competence of its government and its whimsical ways. More importantly, there are concerns over its failure to deliver much-needed domestic reforms to ease the rules of doing business in India. Modi seems to be on a permanent election campaign, unable to take the tough decisions needed for the next wave of reforms.
Our worries are undiminished.  Pakistan, far from being isolated for its support to terrorism, it is getting enhanced attention because of the compulsion of the great powers like the US, Russia and China to obtain peace in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Russia-Pakistan entente and the Russia-China relationship pose troubling questions for New Delhi.
China continues to swarm over us in South Asia. The latest sign of this has been the $24 billion aid, loans and investment commitments made by Xi Jinping during his visit to Bangladesh in 2016. As it is, all three of the wings of the Bangladesh military are equipped with Chinese equipment. Indian aid to Nepal has dipped, while China has now pipped India as the top aid donor. More worrisome are the internal trends suggesting growing Chinese influence in the country.
The new Srisena government had promised to review many of the allegedly pro-Chinese actions,  but as time goes by it is apparent that there has been no real change. Chinese influence is now a growing reality that India must take into account in Sri Lanka.
In the mid 1990s, India thought of itself as a player in Central Asia, but today, the Chinese have swamped everyone, including the US and Russia. Chinese bilateral trade with the region is in excess of $ 50 billion, compared to India’s roughly $ 1.3 billion. Chinese banks hold a significant portion of the government debt of several of the “stans”. And  Chinese pipelines and railroads are turning away the region from their historic ties to Russia.
A major problem in India’s foreign policy is its illusion that it is somehow competing with China. We are certainly a budding rival of China, the only one with sufficient physical size and population to offset its power. But we are a long way from actualising the potential. In the meantime, we urgently need a strategy to do so. Because of the enormous difference in economic and military power between India and China, what we need are asymmetrical means of dealing with Beijing. We have substantial soft-power assets, but those can only be effective together with the real currency of hard power— cash and exportable military goods.
The broad thrust of India’s foreign policy remains is legitimate and worthwhile. But what is needed is retrenchment and focus. We cannot take on China across-the-board. Our South Asian neighbourhood is a priority, and Modi’s outreach to the Persian Gulf has great value because that is the most important external region for India. It is where it gets most of its oil and where it has 7 million citizens who send back substantial remittances.  Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar have huge sovereign wealth funds which are always looking for good investment destinations. India needs to not only access these funds, but build security linkages to secure its oil and its nationals there.
The Chah Bahar project offers us a relatively inexpensive riposte to the One Belt One Road strategy by enabling a multi-modal link to Europe through Iran, the Caucasus and Russia. If we can provide sub-continental and Indian Ocean linkages, we, too, can be in the connectivity business.
Though the first indications are that there could be opportunities in the Trump era, there is need for caution since there are too many imponderables at play at this juncture. But real success for Modi’s foreign policy will necessitate an effective domestic policy focusing primarily on investment and economic growth. This  requires not just vision—which Modi has in surfeit—but competence and execution, which seem to be in short supply.
Pragati March 4, 2017